Welcoming a New Hampshire team to Yost searching for an identity with question marks at every position and few answers, the young Wolverines learned a hard lesson on Friday night when the Wildcats ran them out of their own building.
Facing a team with no proven secondary scoring options, an underclassmen blueline and a freshman goaltender, Michigan fell into the finesse style of hockey that plagued them last season. The Wolverines knew that they had to win the possession battle, slow the pace down and get bodies to the net; instead they tried to play a high tempo transition game that New Hampshire loves to play and got punched in the mouth.
The quick out transition rushes that are a trademark of New Hampshire hockey blew the Wolverines out of the building. They came out too aggressive and let the Wildcats skate in open ice, executing their transition game perfectly and building confidence on every shift. At the end of the night it was 5-1 and the Wolverines were 0-2 for the first time since 1945.
Saturday started with a shakeup. Steve Racine got the start, Berenson put Mike Downing and Zach Werenski together, elevating Nolan De Jong to the 2nd pair and giving Cutler Martin a shot in the lineup. Evan Allen and Brennen Serville sat.
The message was sent, as Red's lineup changes were the difference in the game. Downing made an instant impact beating Adam Clark to the glove just 28 seconds into the game, and Cutler Martin followed a minute later for what would be the game winner.
Both games had similar starts with different results. The Wolverines dominated the first ten minutes of both games and the Wildcats just hung on, waiting for their chance to counter. Friday they hit back hard but on Saturday Michigan made adjustments to their slot coverage and Steve Racine came up huge to earn a much needed win.
Puck possession was not good. It was a little worrying to see a lineup filled with bigger, powerful forwards not grinding out shifts against a New Hampshire team with a young blueline who lives in transition. Even while facing a tempo onslaught, the Wolverines never attempted to slow the game down and a confident Wildcat team ran them over.
- Special Teams are a problem. After Saturday the Wolverines fell to 0-9 on the power play, the penalty kill has allowed two goals on nine chances, but the most troubling number so far is two shorthanded goals allowed in three games. They're not playing with fire; they're already being burned and it has to change.
- Cutler Martin! After bring drubbed Friday night, Berenson changed up his pairings and gave freshman Cutler Martin a shot in the lineup. The move paid off more than anyone expected, as Martin was a physical presence on the ice playing a defense first game and potting the game winning goal. Like Kevin Lohan, consistent mistake free games will earn Martin a permanent place in the lineup.
- Steve Racine was outstanding in net stopping 31 shots and holding off a ferocious New Hampshire push in the 3rd. In the postgame Racine credited his blueline for tightening up and limiting quality scoring chances, a luxury not afforded to Zach Nagelvoort the night before. The coaching staff will have tough decision to make next week when Michigan hits the road against Top-10 team UMass-Lowell and the resurgent Boston University.
- Leadership is something that has been talked about around this program for the last three years. With the unnamed culprits departed who caused the rifts on the ice and in the locker room, this team was expected to turn the corner led by program guys like Andrew Copp, JT Compher and Zach Hyman. So far the team is leagues ahead of where they were last year fighting back against Ferris and coming back out on Saturday getting a win that they had to have. This is where getting a young team together starts.
Up Next: at UMass-Lowell, at Boston University